Lyndon LaRouche, bizarre political theorist and perennial presidential candidate, dies at 96

LaRouche, a Marxist-turned-hard-right-conservative, was one of the great oddities of 20th-century American politics.
Perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche at a news conference in Concord, New Hampshire, in September 1987.Bettmann / Bettmann Archive
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By Alex Johnson

Lyndon LaRouche, a notorious conspiracy theorist who ran for president eight times — once from prison — on platforms asserting that Queen Elizabeth II was a drug dealer and that numerous top government officials were Soviet agents, has died, his political organization confirmed Wednesday.

He was 96.

The group, LaRouche PAC, didn't report a cause of death in an announcement that trumpeted the "big ideas for which history will honor him."

He certainly had big ideas.

LaRouche, who had been a Marxist but evolved into a hard-right conservative, was one of the great odd characters of American political life during the second half of the 20th century, inspiring a following of "LaRouchies" who tirelessly picketed political rallies of all stripes demanding that their leader's claims be heard.

In addition to his thoughts about the United Kingdom and its queen, LaRouche espoused other bizarre theories that managed to encompass extreme elements of both the left and the right, including that:

  • Jews control the pornography trade, and the Holocaust was a hoax.
  • Wall Street is a cancer.
  • Only the restraining influence of the U.S. military has prevented successive presidents from launching a nuclear war.
  • People with the HIV virus that causes AIDS should be quarantined from the rest of the population.
  • Global warming is a fraud.
  • The United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are antithetical to the Platonic ideal of a "perfectly sovereign nation-state republic."

And so forth.

He once published a book alleging that some members of President George W. Bush's administration were "children of Satan," and his organization sponsored posters calling for the impeachment of President Barack Obama, whom it depicted wearing a Hitler mustache.

Born Sept. 8, 1922, in Rochester, New Hampshire, and raised as a Quaker, LaRouche served during World War II as a noncombatant with medical units in India and Burma (now known as Myanmar) — experiences that he later said inspired his hatred of the United Kingdom, which had colonized both countries.

He joined the Socialist Workers Party after the war and in 1968 founded the National Caucus of Labor Committees, which became a springboard for his leftist political activism.

By the 1970s, however, his worldview had shifted dramatically.

LaRouche had joined the U.S. Labor Party in 1973, but by 1979, it had transformed into an extreme-right organ.

In 1984, LaRouche lost a defamation suit against NBC News after NBC aired two news segments reporting that LaRouche's organization was violent and anti-Semitic and quoting former members saying he had floated the idea of assassinating President Jimmy Carter.

NBC countersued for misuse of libel law and was awarded $3 million, which was later reduced to about $260,000.

LaRouche first ran for president in 1976, and he entered every presidential campaign afterward through Bush's re-election in 2004, usually as a Democrat, much to the annoyance of the Democratic National Committee.

In 1988, LaRouche was convicted of mail fraud and tax evasion; he was paroled in 1994. That didn't stop him from running in the Democratic presidential primaries in 1992, however.

Jim Bakker, the disgraced evangelist who served time with him in the same prison, said LaRouche received a daily intelligence report from followers in his cell, which LaRouche believed was bugged, The Washington Post reported in 2004.

"To say that Lyndon was slightly paranoid would be like saying the Titanic had a bit of a leak," Bakker said.

Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson is a senior writer for NBC News covering general news, with an emphasis on explanatory journalism, data analysis, technology and religion. He is based in Los Angeles.